Diagnosis Machine, interactive sound art

Angered Hospital, Gothenburg. 29 April 2016. Diagnosis Machine, interactive sound art. the ECG monitor from Gothenburg Hospital ‘ÖstraSjukhuset’, funded by the Departement of Public Art in VGR.

An artistic introduction to Medical Technology

I was in the Mölndal Hospital in Gothenburg when something happened. It drew my attention because it had colours and curves, a machine that shows how a human feels. Interesting how a machine can integrate with us and help us to know what we don’t know!

People’s experiences of hospitals are seldom enjoyable or inspirational. My personal experiences have been particularly challenging ever since I was a child. These memories evoke unpleasant and disturbing associations when I find myself in a hospital environment. When my son was born in 2008, a change came about. During the delivery, my curiosity was aroused when I happened to look at one of the patient monitors, which analysed the patient’s physical status in real time. At the very moment that I focused my attention on the monitor, I was struck by the various parameters in the form of different-coloured graphic curves. I asked myself what it would sound like if I transformed the monitor into a sound machine that could make a musical diagnosis of the body’s internal responses. That was how the name the Diagnosis Machine came about–on the very day my son came into the world!
Everything from medical technology and architecture to lighting, colour schemes, and sound in a hospital environment can contribute to improving the quality of the care that is being provided. It involves viewing from a new perspective how the hospital can address the needs of its patients in a creative atmosphere–through sound and music–and by doing so have a positive impact on the patients’ health. Imagine how it would sound if a hospital had a laboratory where patients were examined, and their medication was administered using sounds and music. Research confirmed that how sound and music affect human body and mind. However, the project is not about music as a means of promoting better health. It is about experiencing music in a different and innovative way and in a totally new setting, and new stage. This could open up new associations, and new stories about hospitals, which is central in this project.
What we see and hear affects our bodies, both physically and mentally. A diagnosis machine can capture our reactions to these external stimuli and translate them into graphical parameters, creating an abstract image of what we feel. Diagnosis machines show the body’s condition through sensors (ECG), which are interesting to me from an artistic perspective, as they can connect music to graphic parameters. The emphasis of the work “Diagnosis Machine” is the ability to interactively reflect the body’s reactions.
Initially, I had intended to compose a piece of music based on material from the diagnostic machine monitor. However, my focus changed and instead I endeavoured to make use of the monitor’s graphic curves as a real-time score, interpreting the curves musically through improvisation (in a sense of not knowing), chance, and exploring new experiences. It was through this alternative way of thinking that I became interested in experimenting with the monitor as an interactive musical instrument. A piece of music could now be produced using a slightly unconventional medium, offering the opportunity for audience to reflect on the musicality of their own bodies. In order to make the experiment more innovative, I have designed a compositional structure for programming on MaxMSP implied by Carlo Cattano. The compositional structure can translate the graphic images via sampled sound and computer-generated sound to a new musical experience. However, the structure is to organize a raw data/numbers from the monitor’s output signals to five groups of numbers which is a method for my interactive composition tool.
The graphic design of the monitor, with its array of colours and curves, forms the basis for revealing how the human body could sound; using the sensors, the body is the Other Composition.

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Diagnosis Machine
(Photo by Lars Ardarve)
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